Like many girls, I grew up absorbing the message that in order to be liked and accepted, I had to be thin. A perfect storm of voices—from family, media, and even my doctor—combined into one declaration: You're a fat kid. Lose weight. Or else.
The thought of being unloved and not enough because my thighs were thick and I wasn't as small as other girls was enough to kick off a decades-long obsession about my body. In middle school, it meant trying to hide my body and feeling crippling self-consciousness. By the time I finished high school, hating my body was practically a part-time job, and I was hyper-aware of eating foods that had too much fat or too many calories.
Once in college, I picked up a fitness habit. On the surface it probably seemed "healthy"—after all, society praises exercise—but I'd spend hours doing workouts I hated only to wake up the next morning, get on the scale, and hurl insults at myself if the number didn't go down. If I ate something deemed unhealthy, or I ate too much, I'd stay on the cardio machines longer and longer to make up for food sins. I compulsively pinched the fat on my thighs every day for years, measuring myself like a pair of human calipers, seeking the slightest shrinkage.
By the time I was in my early 30s, I'd reached a breaking point. All the restriction, stress, worry, and weight loss diets had failed to make me thin enough. Exercise became another way to numb myself to the failure I felt I was. Thinking about my body consumed so much of my energy. At the end of the 2010 triathlon season, I hit bottom. I saw a photo of myself—in all reality, I'd lost a lot of weight through a combination of undereating and overtraining—and my first thought was, "You look disgusting." I felt resigned to a life of never feeling small enough, and it was hard to imagine there was a way out.